Views 14 Nov Coca Leaves: the green gold of the Andes
 |  Category: Culture and Curiosities

Within the Andean vision of the cosmos, nature represents a profound expression of the great Divinity. This has manifested itself in the cult of the Andean people in their relationship with the land, the mountains, certain animals and plants, attributing them sacred meanings and establishing a particular form of communication through complex rituals that persist to this day.

Among the native plants considered sacred to the people of ancient Tawantisuyo (the Inca Empire), we find the Wachuma or San Pedro cactus, the Amazonian Ayahuasca and Coca leaf, all of which embody a means of communication with the gods of nature and source of self-exploration and direction for the Andean man’s spiritual journey.

Coca Leaves: the green gold of the Andes

Of these three sacred plants, the most widely used in the Andean society has been the Coca leaf. Because of its energetic properties and stimulants to the central nervous system, the leaves were already used some 5000 years ago to tolerate strenuous physical labor. While the ancient man did not exactly know its nutritional qualities, they did realize that the chewing of Coca leaves sated the appetite and, therefore, it became the basis of Andean nutrition especially in times of food shortage. Now we know that the plant is extremely rich in calcium, vitamins and minerals. Similarly, the Andean man gradually discovered the medicinal properties of the plant, being used to relieve sore muscles, to regenerate bone tissue, to withstand altitude sickness known locally as soroche and during the Inca period even to treat brain tumors by using its oil. 

On the other hand, the Coca leaf is also used to unveil the wisdom of nature and to exchange knowledge among men. One of these exchanges is related to its use for predicting future events, through interpreting its color, shape and position of the leave. No wonder it’s also a crucial constituent in offering ceremonies to Mother Earth or Pachamama and healing sessions to cure illnesses ranging from lack of energy, called viento, to the pains associated with terminal diseases. To many the Coca plant represented the real gold that the Inca Empire possessed, without losing its value and cultural significance with the passage of time.

Coca Leaves: the green gold of the Andes

Regrettably, the cultivation of Coca leaves has been stigmatized by the Western world not acquainted with the Andean worldview, attributing the sacred use of this plant to the toxic substance called cocaine. Although the drug is indeed produced ​​from the leaves it is mixed with compounds and other ingredients designed to cause dependency, a characteristic that is completely absent in the Andean leaf. Here exists no prejudice in the consumption of the leaf itself, as this Andean text describes: "with the Coca leaf you are never alone, you’re always with Pachamama".

One such company that firmly believes in responsible tourism and approaching your travels with an open mind through respecting the local culture, customs and environment is Dos Manos Latin America Travel Specialist. Knowing and understanding the country you visit can leave a profound positive impact. Obtaining this knowledge beforehand means that while in Latin America you have the opportunity to be a cultural ambassador for the Western World, and apprehend some of the misconceptions and ignorance some locals perceive in western tourists. 

Coca Leaves: the green gold of the Andes

Their subsidiary travel agency in Cusco highly suggests drinking mate de coca (coca leave tea) the first days upon arrival to combat the effects associated with altitude sickness and fatigue. Some of the tours they operate, like the Inca Trail and Salkantay trek reach heights over 4,600m., which could present a serious struggle if you haven’t given your body a chance to fully acclimatize. A few coca leaf candies are a great treat while having a rest and taking in the stunning views of the Andean highlands!

For more information you can always contact Dos Manos Tour Operator in Peru .

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8 Responses

  1. 1

    Nice article..I drank coca tea all the time while in Cusco and besides I liked the taste it also helped me acclimitize to the alitude. I was really dizzy the first day but for the next few weeks never again!

  2. 2

    Wonder if I can buy some coca leaves here in the United States at a wholefood store or sumthing..probably not due to all the regulations :S

  3. 3
    Jonathan Walker 

    Thanks for posting..this clears up a lot your other article about Andean beliefs as well.. sure is a different world out there!

  4. 4
    Dos Manos Travel Specialist 

    Hola a todos..and thanks for your comments. It is indeed a different world out here..but that is exactly what makes traveling so interesting and exciting!

  5. 5
    Ronnie Zapona 

    with Amauta Spanish School in Cusco we visited the local Coca museum..nice collection of art. If you look close at the ceramic or bronze Inca figurines you see they all have one full cheek from chewing all that coca haha I bought some coca beers at the store which were really good!

  6. 6

    Interesting read!

  7. 7
    Marloes van Dongen 

    Nice photos…Peru is so colorful!! Saving money to return soon!!

  8. 8

    time for tea break!

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